When the weather gets chilly in Eugene, Oregon, many kids who might otherwise shiver in the cold will stay warmer thanks to knitted caps made by 104-year-old hands.
Dody Patterson might just be the country’s oldest knitter and volunteer. Born in 1910, she’s been knitting for almost a century — a hobby that helps both her and others.
What’s the formula to her longevity?
“Hard work and interest in doing one project after another. I’ve been busy with my hands nearly all of my life,” Patterson, who resides in an assisted living home in Eugene, told TODAY. “I feel wonderful.”
She spends her days knitting warm wool hats that she donates to Caps for Kids, a local charity that distributes them to children in the community. She estimates she knits about 250 caps a year.
When a visitor called her on a recent morning, she was already hard at work, listing the benefits of her favorite hobby.
“It’s satisfying, it’s restful, it exercises the eyes and the hands, and it keeps my mind exercised,” Patterson said.
Besides keeping busy, Patterson believes her diet has played a big role in getting to 104. She mainly consumes fruit, vegetables and nuts. She likes poultry and seafood, but stopped eating beef and pork 25 years ago, and she tries to avoid dairy. Patterson also exercises three or four times a week in the nursing home gym.
Good genes play a part, too: She had a sister who lived to be 95, and a brother who lived to be 97.
“I don’t think of her as a 104-year-old, I think of her as 104 years young,” said Mona Rummel, who started the Caps for Kids program and first met Patterson when the elderly knitter visited her yarn shop in Eugene 17 years ago. Patterson became a volunteer soon after.
The charity collected some 1,500 caps this year, which Rummel distributes to schools and shelters during the holidays. Since 1990, the caps have gone to low-income families who might otherwise not be able to afford them.
Patterson is one of 40 knitters who volunteer for Caps for Kids.
“She’s inspirational to everybody who meets her. It just shows people you’re never too old to try something new or to just keep going forward,” Rummel said.
She believes the hobby has helped Patterson live long because it lets her socialize with fellow knitters, has a calming effect and helps keep her brain in shape. Indeed, studies have shown knitting does have health benefits.
“Her knitting has sustained her and given her purpose and joy in her life,” said Laura Lambert, Patterson’s granddaughter.
Patterson was born on a 900-acre cattle ranch in Haskell, Texas. Her great-grandmother taught her to knit with a cotton string when she was 7. She spent five decades as a beautician and was married for 43 years, until the death of her husband in the 1970s. She stayed healthy and vibrant until she became a centenarian.
So the family was very anxious when the great-great-grandmother fell in her garden in 2011 and fractured her right shoulder and pelvis. Her life changed from being very independent to depending on others for everything, Lambert said.
Surgery was too risky at her age, and Patterson had to endure many complications. She worried she wouldn’t be able to knit again.
But as she recovered, Patterson kept trying and finally her shoulder was stable enough so she could return to her beloved hobby, Lambert said.
She fills her days with creating caps and visits from family, including four great-great-grandchildren.
“I just am thankful for every day that passes that I’ll be able to keep knitting tomorrow,” Patterson said.